Illness, bereavement, disruption to life, high stress levels, community spirit, …

The pandemic has forced many to really consider what matters most in life.

Impact on children’s learning

The Human Values Foundation education charity was established in August 1995 by a primary school teacher, June Auton, who worked in a school on the south coast of England.  It was in an area considered to be one of the roughest in Europe!

June recognised that many children’s capacity to learn was being badly blighted by all the social and emotional baggage with which they were grappling.  Her vision was to give all children an integrated, whole-person, values-driven education that would benefit not only the lives and health of the emerging generation of young citizens but also teachers and those who look after children – and ultimately the fabric of society.

This Autumn term, when the opportunity arose once again, to actually go into schools, it soon became apparent just how much the interruption to children’s education had impaired their capacity to learn.  It was particularly noticeable for the Year 2 children aged 6 to 7, because they had not yet had a full year of schooling.  Their social and emotional development was well behind and this in turn affected vocabularies, ability to communicate, understanding and management of feelings and also how to sit still and concentrate.

Teachers too, expressed the need to catch up on the absence of training for almost two years, especially on how to handle their pupils’ behaviour and their heightened need for support for their wellbeing and mental health.

Our values-themed programme, The Big Think

Our successor to June’s original programme, which we call THE BIG THINK, comprises 60 multi-media learning modules for ages 5 to 7 and a further 60 for ages 7 to 11.  These packs are grouped under 5 core values of Peace, Love, Truth, Responsibility and Community.  They each explore a related value, for example, Honesty in the Truth group and Resilience in the Peace group.  Each lesson kit includes a contemporary story that acts as a springboard for discussion in a safe, supportive classroom environment.  The sessions provide opportunities for developing coping skills for many of the anxieties and challenges faced by today’s children, be they online, at home, in school, about racism or bullying, to do with climate change and degradation of the environment, their feelings and wellbeing, relationships, etc, etc.

The flexibility of The Big Think resources meant that Sarah Pengelly, the teacher who designed the programme for us, has been able to lead training sessions both online and on site.  The Zoom meetings have often involved discussions and exploring shared values with representatives from across the school community, including the Headteacher and other members of the senior leadership team, some children, parents, carers, governors and local stakeholders.

Filling a gap in teachers’ training, the sessions in schools allowed Sarah to model lessons so that teachers could watch and then try out some of the techniques and strategies the programme promotes.  For example, to instil a sense of peace and enhance wellbeing, each lesson begins with a few minutes of Silent Sitting, using the gentle, calming mindfulness track with music and a relaxing visualisation.  Teaching and learning have been further advanced with the carefully structured, inclusive elements in each pack developing oracy, key social and emotional competencies, thinking skills, teamworking, listening respectfully and non-judgementally, and both imparting and gaining knowledge in order for participants to make well informed choices in real-world contexts.

There is a long road ahead but we are very encouraged as our work spreads and deepens understanding about the power and influence of values.

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